Inspirational Leadership: The Barry Wehmiller Story

Inspirational Leadership: The Barry Wehmiller Story

Do you know how inspirational leadership is related to innovative leadership and its effect on an organization? While good leaders who initiate structure and show consideration are typically successful, innovative leaders can take organizations to new heights.

Achieving Principled Results on PurposePhilosophy of Leadership

For a moment, try to envision a CEO who has led an organization to 20 consecutive years of 20% compound growth in revenue and share value. Do you see a ruthless cost-cutter slashing budgets and jobs, moving operations overseas, and over-burdening stressed-out employees?

Now, imagine the opposite of that and you have Mr. Robert Chapman, CEO of Barry-Wehmiller. With revenues over $1 Billion, Barry-Wehmiller is an industry leader and the largest packaging and automation company in North America. During the two decades of significant growth described above, Mr. Chapman has focused on the challenge of creating and sustaining an environment that brings out the best in people. This is a goal Barry-Wehmiller articulates as “Achieving Principled Results on Purpose.”

Inspirational Leadership Philosophy

Mr. Chapman’s experiences have led him to a philosophy of “inspirational leadership.” Businesses, he explains, can have a positive and meaningful impact on society through how they engage and enrich their team members. Mr. Chapman has made “We measure success by the way we touch the lives of people” the guiding principle at Barry-Wehmiller, where leadership is about authentically creating meaningful roles so that each Barry-Wehmiller associate can use their gifts and talents.

Applying Inspirational Leadership

The unparalleled success of Barry-Wehmiller certainly demonstrates that Mr. Chapman’s innovative leadership style of sincere interest in people is a winning approach. Another great example is how Barry-Wehmiller reduced its worker compensation costs.

“It is an awesome responsibility. How are you sending people home? Can they be there for their spouses, not just physically but emotionally? For their kids? For their community? American business has a profound opportunity to have a sustained positive impact upon our society.”

Robert Chapman Chairman & CEO Barry Wehmiller

A few years ago worker compensation costs at Barry-Wehmiller were soaring, which is the case at many organizations. At first they did the usual things; addressing the issue by communicating lost time due to accidents and rising insurance costs.

These approaches didn’t provide significant results, and they also didn’t truly align with Mr. Chapman’s inspirational leadership philosophy. A more innovative approach was needed.

Inspiring Success

Inspirational Leadership

As a result, a 20 member cross-functional team was formed to address the issue in a way that reflects Barry-Wehmiller’s leadership principles. The team responded with this question: If we measure success by the way we touch the lives of people, then isn’t safety really about the desire for each and every team member to arrive home safely each day?

Vision, Mission, and Messaging

So this became the vision, the mission, and the message. Not reducing insurance costs, but sending every person home safely at the end of each day. The passion, commitment, and sincerity with which the cross-functional team and the company’s leadership brought this message to Barry-Wehmiller team members was transformational.

Instead of safety being a cost concern, it became a company value. While cost was not the focus, there was a positive result. Paid claims were reduced by 80%, and workers compensation insurance premiums fell from $363 per Barry-Wehmiller team member in 2003 to $73 in 2006.

Inspiring EmployeesInspire Employees

As this example shows, an innovative approach can have a positive impact on employees, on the organization, and even on society, leading to inspirational leadership. Barry-Wehmiller’s recent effort involves embarking on a Lean Enterprise Journey, which equips team members with lean tools and techniques to help them visualize the unique contribution they make to the business. Then cross-functional teams refine processes to support a more efficient and practical approach to the work.

Inspirational Work Environment

Once again the focus is not on reducing costs. The real goal is to create a more enjoyable and satisfying work environment for everyone. This approach not only aligns with Mr. Chapman’s philosophy of inspirational leadership, but also with what he has learned about his team members over the years.

He explains, “At Barry-Wehmiller, we have paid people for their hands for years, and they would have given us their heads and hearts for free, if we had just asked them.”

A Challenge to Leaders

Mr. Chapman delivered the keynote address at an event honoring the top privately held businesses in the St. Louis area. Instead of presenting performance results, Mr. Chapman asked these business leaders the following questions: What do you hope to achieve while you are on the face of the earth? What are you going to do to make a difference? How is your leadership role in business allowing you to do that?

Mr. Chapman went on to give them the following challenge:

“Our problem in America is not our people. It’s the lack of inspiration. It’s the lack of people feeling fulfilled by what they’re doing. We’ve gotten too disconnected from the way we touch the lives of people. Our promise at Barry-Wehmiller is that if we’ve got 4,100 employees and they each have an average of four people in their families, we’ve got more than 16,000 people directly impacted by our leadership. It is an awesome responsibility. How are you sending people home? Can they be there for their spouses, not just physically but emotionally? For their kids? For their community? American business has a profound opportunity to have a sustained positive impact upon our society.”

Successful leaders initiate structure and show consideration. The ways in which they employ these important leadership traits, however, can be the difference between meeting standards and setting new ones. The story of Mr. Chapman and Barry-Wehmiller is the story of what leadership can mean to an organization, its members, and all of its stakeholders.

How Does Your Leadership Style Affect Your Organization?

For more information on Barry-Wehmiller Companies, Inc. and their inspirational leadership model, please visit or download a PDF version of their corporate publication Perspective.

To learn more about using process improvement programs for your organization, attend the next Implementing Lean Thinking class.

Bizmanualz would like to thank Sarah Hannah of Barry-Wehmiller, whose assistance made this article possible.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *